I really love taking photos of nature, especially birds. It is the reason that I started photography. I love the variety of colors, sizes, shapes, and behavior. Add the fact that you can usually find them almost anywhere.
You have probably heard of the saying “It is the photographer that makes a great photograph and not the gear” Or maybe read in Ken Rockwell’s lens review these words;
Warning 1: Image sharpness depends more on you than your lens.
Warning 2: Lens sharpness doesn’t mean much to good photographers.
These words mean that it is you the bird photographer that can make a good bird photograph with the help only of whatever photography gear you have in your arsenal.
With that said I want to share with you some tips for bird photography, I have learned as a venture into this new hobby of mine.
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1. Bird Photography Equipment
There are many factors to consider to get a great image in general not only bird photography. Some of them are proper exposure, proper settings, composition, the light, knowledge of your gear and much more.
As you can see it takes a lot more than having the most expensive camera and bird photography lenses to capture a great bird photo. A decent APS-C or DX camera body with a telephoto lens of up to 300mm will be enough to take great bird images.
I can’t deny the fact that having a longer lens will help to photograph skittish birds. But, don’t let this stops you from taking great photographs of birds that are easily approachable like Mallard ducks, geese, gulls, and herons.
2. Light and Good Composition
Photography is all about light. Wonderful photographs are made of lights few characteristics.
I usually take photographs in the early morning and sometimes in the afternoon which is usually the best time for bird photography. The light during this time of the day is soft and birds are also actively looking for foods.
The magical light this times of the day is when colors look its best does not cast harsh shadows on the bird, gives the birds eyes a catch light, and highlights the bird’s plumage.
The composition is how you convey a message to your photographs in the best possible way. There are many composition techniques but using the basic principles like the rule of thirds, filling the frame, and using the background is more than enough.
In making your composition, take inspiration from the images that have wowed you, but make an original photo. Don’t try to recreate an image you have seen, people are amazed at an image they have never seen before, than just a copy of another great photo.
Take the same subject but aim for a different angle and unusual behavior that is entirely new.
3. Bring The Bird’s World To Your Viewer
Bird’s eye view is as low as few inches to a few feet at most. So to know how they see the world you need to go down their level.
As much as possible, photograph birds from their eye level. This method will let you get intimate photographs since you will get an eye contact with the bird. The foreground and background you get will be pleasing and the birds will be less likely to get scared since you are hardly moving.
It will also make your images more natural that if you are just pointing your camera down on your subject.
4. The Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Bird
Similar to the other genre of photography like portrait, insect macro photography the first thing we want to see in a bird photograph is their eye.
We tend to make an eye connection with any living being. And so do with birds. That’s why they say the eyes are the windows to the soul. The eye pulls the viewer into the moment, the emotion.
I always look for a catch light in every photo of a bird I am taking. Catchlight makes birds look lively and not look dull or lifeless.
To get a better bird photograph, I always try to focus on the bird’s eye and check if there is a catchlight before I press the shutter release button.
5. Filling the Frame
When taking a photograph of a bird, it is a good idea to fill the frame with the bird like we do in portrait photography.
This gives several advantages like the easiness of focusing on the bird, getting a good blur or bokeh effect, making exposure and composing more easily.
6. Tell A Story
This is the opposite of filling the frame where you want your photo to have more of the surroundings which will give a better sense of the story behind your photo. This will make the viewers be able to picture themselves in the scene.
There are several things you can do to give your photographs a storytelling effect.
Some of them are showing bird interaction by including more than one bird in the photograph, taking a photo at the different time of the day, and indicating the weather conditions and season of the year.
7. Capturing Birds Action and Bird Behavior
If you want to capture birds in action you need to put more effort and patience than if you want photographing birds that are perched.
Birds tend to move a lot. They fly, scamper, swim, mate, fight, and dive.
But knowing this few tips will help you do just that. First, you need to use burst mode or what I personally call continuous shooting mode to take several photographs during the action.
And you must know more about the bird behavior by knowing more about them or observing them in the field. Take the best photo in your mind first, see how the bird behaves, and anticipate their next move.
Also, using a hide like a bush or a car can help the bird feel comfortable. I always use camouflage clothes when I am out photographing birds and also bought one for my camera to break its pattern and to be less noticeable from the bird.
8. Capturing a Bird In Flight
This is my favorite way to photograph a bird though I must admit I find it a bit tricky. Success in taking a photo of birds flying mainly depends on the birds as well as the techniques you will use.
If you are starting out, it is advisable to start with larger birds because they are less swift and not as difficult to track unlike smaller birds which are generally very erratic and a bit difficult to track as they generally smaller in the frame.
To succeed in this type of photography, you must spend ample time to learn about the bird’s flight pattern and their landing and takeoff pattern. Also, use fast shutter speed to freeze the action.
9. Be Unique, Be Who You Are
I have loved pets since a long as I can remember, that’s the reason I have this blog even before I started learning photography. So I use my passion for pets to my advantage. And it’s the reason when I started photography, I shoot what I love such as birds, landscapes, macro (though I only shoot small living things especially spiders, they are really fun to shoot with and see those hairs on them).
With regards to bird photography, in particular, take photos of your favorite birds, capturing images of eagles or hummingbird might appeal to some, but maybe you’re a duck guy. So go out and create compelling photos of ducks that have never been taken before.
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